On one side of the coin, Seth Bravin is a business guy. With an M.B.A. from Cornell University and nearly a decade with IBM, Seth approaches opportunities and challenges in a logical and pragmatic manner. On the other side of the coin, Seth Bravin is passionate about giving back to the community.
Seth, who is deaf, attended Gallaudet University where he majored in business administration and finance and ultimately met his wife, Neshy. They now have three young children. At Gallaudet, getting the accommodations he needed was a seamless process. However, Seth's subsequent career and educational choices were rooted more in opportunity than the concern that he wouldn't get what he needed to be productive and successful. He credits his positive, practical attitude towards dealing with his disability to his parents, who are also deaf.
After graduating from Gallaudet, Seth spent five years in the business world, working in corporate law with Fortune 500 companies and Internet start-ups, and in consulting where he worked with federal government clients evaluating information technology investments. In his consulting work with Booz-Allen and Hamilton, Seth also found his first opportunity to indulge his passion for assisting others when he helped launch a disability consulting service offering for the firm.
A desire to expand his career horizons led Seth back to school for his MBA, this time at Cornell University. Being deaf didn't impact his choice. Like most young professionals, he simply looked for the best program. "There weren't many deaf students at Cornell, so it was a new experience for me and, in many ways, for the university as well. Still, the school did have a disability office that helped me arrange interpreting and note-taking services, and the National Technical Institute of the Deaf, which is part of the Rochester Institute of Technology, was nearby, so I had all the support I needed," he said.
During his last year at Cornell, IBM recruiters made a trip to campus. A family history with the company and a critical eye on the marketplace prompted him to interview. "My father worked at IBM for 25 years," said Seth. "While I was in business school, I watched IBM closely and I was impressed at how the company repositioned itself and innovated to take advantage of the changes in the market."
Since joining IBM eight years ago, Seth has had the opportunity to work as a financial analyst for an emerging business opportunity (Linux EBO) in New York working with sales and marketing teams. Then, he was based in Maryland where he did financial planning for the Global Public Sector handling accounts in the Government, Healthcare and Life Sciences industries. He managed the numerous meetings and conference calls using two different kinds of services—live interpreting and video interpreting. "Video interpreting is a major technology breakthrough for deaf and hard of hearing people," he says. "I'm located in Maryland talking with a person in New York and the video interpreter who is facilitating our conversation could be in Texas. I connect with the interpreter using a videophone."
Seth has recently joined the Human Ability & Accessibility Center where he is a Strategic Industries Program Manager for the Strategy and Solutions area. He works closely with business development and technical teams on early-stage technology projects and integration of accessible technologies with other IBM products and solutions. The organization is collaborating with key industries and customers around the world to bring more accessible technologies to the market.
When he considers how much has changed in terms of the technology and services that help people with disabilities be productive in the workplace, he is grateful and impressed, but emphasizes the importance of businesses continuing to find new ways to support people in reaching their full potential. "IBM is a great company. But I remember the struggles my parents went through. The kinds of technology and services I use just weren't available to them. Fortunately, IBM is really proactive and they've been doing the right thing for a long time. IBM knows that to truly understand the market, they have to employ people that genuinely represent the marketplace. That's why the company has a cost recovery fund at the corporate level to pay for accommodations including assistive technologies, enabling managers to hire the best person for a position without having to worry about the cost of supporting them. For IBM, this makes business sense and it is a competitive advantage. And as a society, this kind of attitude allows a greater number of people to broaden their understanding of people with disabilities," says Seth.
Still, as much credit as Seth gives to IBM for providing employees who have disabilities with the tools and technology they need to be effective in their jobs, he gives the distinct impression that what he values most about the company is its culture which enables him to reach out and make a difference in the deaf and hard of hearing community. As an IBM ambassador, Seth has hosted technology camps for deaf and hard of hearing high school students in several states including California, New York and Georgia to help them learn more about pursuing a career in technology. He currently serves on the boards of Lexington School for the Deaf and Maryland Association of the Deaf. He has presented at Hearing Loss Association of America and National Association of the Deaf conferences. "I just want to leverage the opportunities I've been given to make a positive change in other people's lives," he says.